In EFT, “the therapist is a process consultant.” (Johnson, Susan M., 2004.)

Last week, I highlighted the Four P’s of EFT: Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Pattern (cycle), and Process. The more I think about the Four P’s the more I realize it is hard to pull them apart. They are intertwined, they all lean into each other, they work together to help you make sense of what is happening in the room. In EFT, going deeper into one “P” will always link you to another “P”. But this week, I thought it might be helpful to try to pull out Process and take a deeper look into it. 

Process is the “how” of the moment—how each person thinks, understands, and integrates an experience, and then how that shows up in the moment. It is the slowing down of each moment and tracking “how the couple communicates and moves in relation to each other” (Johnson, Susan M. 2002). For instance, lets say one of your clients gets angry in session. If you were thinking about Process, you would want to explore what did they just hear, see, or sense in that moment and how did they understand it? And just before they flared up in anger, did they first touch on pain or sadness, then frustration, then anger (all in a nanosecond)? Or was there another important emotional sequence that ended in anger? You can often begin to unfold Process with a “what happened” question, i.e. “what happened to you just now” or “what happened between you two right now?” (Notice the “right now” question—you are accessing Present Moment here too!)

I think Process is an excellent “P” to have in your back pocket to pull out and use any time you might feel stuck. For instance:

If you are stuck in content, process the client’s move, not the content. “In talking about this right now, you just moved a little farther away from your partner. Can you help me with that? What just happened?” Note that I just highlighted a physical move, but we also highlight and process emotional moves, i.e “In talking about this right now, it seemed like you got defensive, which I believe is usually a way to protect yourself. Am I right, did you just feel the need to protect yourself? Can you help me with that?”

If you get down to primary emotion and don’t know what to do, you can wonder with them what they typically do with this feeling. (Notice here you are working in another “P” as well, Pattern).

If you get a surprising reaction from a partner, unfold the Process behind it. “What just happened for you? As your partner said that she’s scared she will disappoint you, you got angry, yes? That’s important. Can you help me with that?”

If you get no response from someone, you can conjecture Process with them. “I know you always want so much to help your wife, are you trying to come up with a solution right now?” Or try putting language to the non-verbals you see. “I see your brows knitted together, are you trying to make sense of what your partner just said?” 

If your clients are escalating in the room, use Process to try to keep everyone (including yourself) grounded. “Can we pause…. something important is happening here, help me understand.” You can stay with the couple and process the cycle that just came up in the room (Pattern), or zoom into one partner and unfold their individual Process.

If one partner fires a bullet, use Process to “catch it” (“catching the bullet”, Johnson, Susan M. 2004) and help everyone make sense of what just happened. “Alex, you just fired a bullet, and Chris, you looked like you were reaching for your own rifle. Something powerful just happened that I’m guessing happens all the time between you. Can we slow down here and try to understand it together? Alex, what happened right before you picked up your gun, what was your cue to pull the trigger?” 

So this week, pay attention to Process in the room. Try to pull it out and look at it with your clients. 🙂

Johnson, Susan M. The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner/Routledge, 2004. 42, 152. Print.

Johnson, Susan M. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors. New York: The Guilford Press, 2002. 95. Print.


  1. Thanks for posting these Karyn. You’re posts are always so clear and practical. I especially find the quotes of how the therapist can say things to be very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karyn, I’m just reading this today after a very escalated session yesterday. You have helped me find some words for them when they do this.

    Liked by 1 person

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